Josiah Collins & Somerset Plantation during the War

(Washington County)

Featured Character – The Home Front

Somerset Place

          Courtesy of Preservation North Carolina             and Tim Buchman

Born in Somersetshire, England, Josiah Collins came to the colonies in 1773.  In 1777, Collins moved to Edenton and set up a mercantile partnership with two other men.  Ten years later, Collins formed the Lake Company, a venture to drain and cultivate land on the shores of Lake Phelps in Tyrrell County.  After purchasing one-hundred and thirteen slaves directly from Africa, the partners purchased 109,978 acres.  In 1816, Josiah Collins bought out his other partners and he named the entire enterprise Somerset Plantation, after his home county in England.  Collins’s slaves grew rice, wheat, and corn on the newly drained fields.  They also cut cypress shingles, which earned the highest profits.  Neither Josiah nor his son, also named Josiah Collins, lived at Somerset.  Overseers maintained the plantation while the family actually resided at the Homestead Plantation near Edenton.  Josiah Collins’s grandson, Josiah Collins III, was the first member of the family to actually live at Somerset.  His father built the present manor house as a wedding present in 1830.  By the 1860, the Collinses personally owned 4,000 cleared acres worked by three-hundred and twenty-eight slaves, making Josiah Collins III one of the three largest slaveholders in North Carolina.  A strong Unionist, Collins evacuated his family and slaves to Hillsborough after the Union invasion of the Albemarle region in 1862.  The plantation did not easily adapt to free labor.  In 1870, Collins’s widow sold Somerset to W.B. Shepard.  A majority of the land eventually fell into the hands of the state and federal governments.  The Department of Cultural Resources currently maintains the Collins’s former plantation as Somerset State Historic Site.  Descendents of both the Collinses and their slaves held several reunions at Somerset.